A real-life medical thriller that proves when science, medicine, and perseverance align, “the impossible becomes possible.”
In 2015, infectious disease epidemiologist Strathdee (Global Health Sciences/Univ. of California, San Diego School of Medicine) and her husband, Patterson, a psychologist, were on vacation in Egypt when he was infected with one of the deadliest antibiotic-resistant superbugs on the planet. In a few terrifying days, his health deteriorated to the point where it was uncertain whether modern medicine could help him. As Strathdee writes, “Tom was quickly becoming the poster child for the dystopian future of the post-antibiotic age.” In this fast-paced memoir, the authors describe how Strathdee scoured scientific history and identified an unconventional cure: phage therapy, in which a virus is utilized as a bacterial killer. The catch was that phage therapy hadn’t been used in the United States in nearly a century, and no one knew how to find the right virus, purify it to meet FDA standards, and administer it safely. Miraculously, Strathdee overcame every one of these obstacles with the help of kindhearted and intrepid researchers from around the world. Despite the potential heartbreak that lurks within every chapter, the writing is always infused with humor, hope, and intelligence, and the couple’s remarkable story is grounded in real-life details that bring readers directly into their world: desperate late-night emails to people who might help, on-the-fly Googling of critical care lingo, impromptu dance parties at Tom’s bedside. The book also includes dark, surreal poetic interludes from Patterson’s perspective, providing a glimpse into the patient’s mindset, an interesting contrast to the chronicle of his wife’s relentless effort to save him.
Strathdee’s recognition as one of TIME’s 50 Most Influential People in Health Care is unquestionably well-deserved; as this page-turning book shows, she is a hero whose insight and determination could serve as models to help save many more lives.